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WV's controlled substance database to be updated, more stats available

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The state's controlled substances monitoring database is undergoing a lot of changes, according to David Potters, executive director and general counsel for the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy.

But some people would like broader access to the database to be among the changes.

Potters spoke to lawmakers Jan. 7 as part of regular interim committee meetings. He said the state has had a monitoring program since 1995, and it has been expanded through the years to include Schedule 2 through Schedule 4 drugs. He said a grant in 2004 helped to make the entire database web-based, so it is available to practitioners.

Last year's Senate Bill 437, which became a law and included purchasing limits on pseudoephedrine, also included extra reporting requirements Potters said the Board of Pharmacy is on its way to implement.

That new data will include the date the prescription was written, the date it was dispensed, the practitioner who wrote the prescription, the patient's full name and the identity of a person who picks up a prescription on behalf of another person.

He said the database currently is being transferred to another platform, but when it's ready, which should be in the spring, more data-driven searches can be completed to determine things such as the most popular drugs in a particular county or the most popular drug for a specific doctor.

Potters said the database has about 20 to 30 million listings in it already. His records indicate that each of West Virginia's 1.8 million people is prescribed approximately 2.5 prescriptions each year.

Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, asked Potters how other states have structured their access to their databases. Potters said West Virginia is somewhat in the middle of the spectrum, since some states offer no access to their databases and others offer complete access.

Potters said West Virginia has about 15 federally recognized drug task forces, and members of those task forces have access along with a handful of West Virginia State Police troopers with specific authorization.

Potters said the Board of Pharmacy held the position last year, during debate over Senate Bill 437, that access should be left alone.

Cpl. Wendy Comer with the West Virginia State Police has worked with the drug diversion unit since 2008. She spoke to lawmakers and said there have been no reports of misuse of database access so far. She said troopers with access to the database keep a log of what reports are run and the reason for running them, because any member of the law enforcement community with a reasonable suspicion can request a report.

Comer said no reports take longer than 24 hours to complete, and she stresses to all members of law enforcement that the reports are just a tool, and they must be verified.

She said the information is only as accurate as the person inputting it all, so there can be mistakes, and an arrest cannot be made just based on a report.

Potters told lawmakers that troopers with access to the database receive training from the DEA and also the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators.

Cabell County Sheriff Tom McComas told lawmakers that he doesn't need access to the database, because Cabell County has a drug diversion task force.

But, McComas said he would have liked to have had access during his investigation of Dr. Anita Dawson, a Cabell County doctor who pleaded guilty in July to aiding and abetting in obtaining controlled substances along with fraud and forgery.

"I personally know seven people who overdosed in her care," McComas said. "This is my fourth year in asking for access to this database."

McComas said he didn't think every single member of the law enforcement community needs access, but he would like to see access expanded.

"It would have been handy for me to know that Dr. Anita Dawson, in 2009, wrote more prescriptions than St. Mary's Medical Hospital," McComas said. "That would have been a handy piece of information for me to have."